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South Africa 2013. Part Three

Text and Photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

My 2013 report is presented in three parts:

Part 1 - Setting the scene for 2013 and Swartland
Part 2 - Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Somerset West
Part 3 - Constantia, Cape Point, Elgin and Walker Bay.


Overberg/Walker Bay Area

walker bay There is a danger of some confusion with the multiplying sub regions and zones within the Walker Bay area (itself part of a larger region called Overberg). Many lovers of South African wine came to recognise the name Walker Bay on the label in the late 1990s as a signal for very high quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But since then other names like Hermanus, Bot River and Hemel-en-Aarde have further defined their own boundaries within Walker Bay, and are exploring their special characteristics in an attempt to establish their own identities. Pictured above: Ataraxia, Hemel-en-Aarde.

Whilst this is an unstoppable evolutionary process, it does make understanding the sub-regions a little more challenging. Bot River is the western entrance to the region, lying between Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde. The small band of growers there, led by the formidable Niels Verburg of Luddite Wines, is keen to be seen as a region in their own right. Next up comes Hemel-en-Aarde, with some of the closest vineyards to the ocean, but the land rising as it follows the R220 road away from the town of Hermanus. Here is gains altitude, but also a set of subtly changing sub-names too as it divides into Hemel-en-Aarde, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The sub-divisions and the shifting nomenclature are confusing, yes, but thankfully the Walker Bay area's many offspring are producing some of the Cape's most exciting wines.

Walker Bay producers and wines


Peter-Allan Finlayson originally rejected a career in winemaking, but it was only a matter of time...

6 wines tasted


The search for extraordinary vineyards has driven Chris Alheit to make some terrific white wines

3 wines tasted


Gordon and Nadia Newton-Johnson make some of the Cape's most alluring and expressive Pinot Noir.

12 wines tasted


For whom the bell tolls: Kevin Grant is the answer, unflinching and brilliant Chardonnay obsessive.

10 wines tasted

Hemel-en-Aarde Five

A tasting with Walker Bay originals Hamilton-Russell & Bouchard-Finlayson, plus newer players.

20 wine tasted

Best of Bot River

Niels Verburg is the colossus behind Luddite Wines, and the lead singer of the Bot River band.

18 wines tasted


map It has been fascinating to watch the development of the Elgin Valley since my first visit there in 2005 when there were only three estates, though a number Stellenbosch producers were already taking fruit from this cool apple and pear-growing area that still boasts as many orchards as vineyards. Returning in 2013, it was clear that energy levels remain high in this valley where the average age of its wine estates is only around three years. With vineyards running from 300 to close on 500 metres in elevation, this is true cooler climate country where varieties like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir flourish. Now there are more than 20 estates here, many of which have already carved international reputations for quality.

Elgin is a bowl-shaped valley, surrounded by the Hottentots-Holland mountains. Those slopes mean a variety of aspects to the sun and prevailing winds can be found, and a variety of soils too - sandstone with gravel, clay and shale deposits - in these often misty vineyards. Elgin may still have to play it trump cards - who knows? Will Elgin Syrah turn out to be a world beater, or some other variety yet to be considered, let alone planted?

Elgin producers and wines

Shannon Vineyards

Marine biologist turned winemaker James Downes doesn't follow the herd with his unusual range.

4 wines tasted


Lawyer turned winemaker Joris van Almenkerk has definite thoughts on wine and the UK market.

5 wines tasted

Paul Cluver

The aromatic kings of the Elgin Valley, still fashioning superb Rieslings, dry and sweet.

8 wines tasted

Constantia and Cape Point

steenberg Constantia is the closest quality vineyard area to Cape Town - indeed it's a southern suburb of the city where broad, oak-lined avenues and comfortably settled wine farms wear a graceful Victorian air. An easy place to pop round for a tasting or lunch in one of its many fine restaurants, it is the white wines of Constantia that put the area on the map, as well as some glorious dessert wines including daddy of them all, the much vaunted Vin de Constance. Constantia may lack on the raw energy of Swartland or fast-paced development of Elgin, but its many long-established estates maintain superb quality. Pictured is one of the two excellent restaurants on the Steenberg Estate in Constantia.

Just south-west of Constantia, Cape Point Vineyards is the only wine estate on the Cape Point peninsula, where it benefits from the cooling influence of the ocean: False bay sits directly below. Also within very easy striking distance of Cape Town, since its first vintage in 2000, Cape Point has become a major tourist attraction for its picnic spots and live events held around the winery, and yet winemaker Duncan Savage is still crafting some of the Cape's most individual wines. Sauvignon Blanc is the big focus, though literally the day before my visit Duncan had launched his own Savage Wines brand, Sauvingon yes, but a Rhône-style red blend too.

Steenberg, Cape Point & Savage Wines

Steenberg, Constantia

One of the first estates reached when entering the Valley from Cape Town, Steenberg is a luxury golf resort but also a producer famed for white wines.

10 wines tasted

Cape Point and Savage Wines

Duncan Savage of Cape Point, surfer par excellence, is also one of the Cape's most respected winemakers with these cool and beautiful vineyards.

6 wines tasted

Part 1 -
Setting the scene for 2013 and Swartland

Part 2 - Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Somerset West.